It’s easy to see why many first-time buyers now opt for newly-built properties. The low maintenance and the Government’s Help to Buy equity loan scheme are big attractions, but Matthew Lee has proved that doing it the old-fashioned way can yield spectacular results.
He bought a two-bedroom, mid-terrace property in need of updating and turned it into an energy-efficient house that retains its historic charm while boasting contemporary style and all mod cons.
Taking this path to the perfect first home is more difficult but comes with a host of benefits, as Matthew, 29, discovered.
Taking on a “do-er upper” or a property that just needs a little updating is often a better investment than a new-build and you’ll certainly have a much wider choice of location.
It also teaches useful skills, such as DIY, sourcing products, finding and working with contractors and, of course, budgeting.
“I definitely learnt a lot,” says Matthew who was keen to buy in the desirable village of Honley, near Huddersfield, and had managed to save a deposit. “I chose Honley because I grew up in this area so it’s near family and friends and I work nearby.
“I managed to get the deposit with help from mum and dad and by living with my parents, which was a cheap option that allowed me to save.”
The Edwardian terrace house he bought in 2017 ticked all the boxes. It needed modernisation and was a good price at £130,000. “It was priced to sell and, although it was dated, it was structurally sound. The cellar was dry and you could tell it was a well-built house.
“There were other people interested but the owner decided to go with me because I was a first-time buyer and wanted to live in it, rather than develop it to sell on,” says Matthew, who works in the property business. He is a project co-ordinator at award-winning One 17 Architects and Interior Designers, based in Armitage Bridge, Huddersfield.
But when it came to upcycling his house, he called for help from his father, architect Mark Lee, a partner at One 17. “I’m very organised and enjoy the technical management side of things but I didn’t inherit my dad’s design skills,” says Matthew.
“He had one look and knew exactly what to do with the house and he had a lot of ideas I’d never have thought of.”
The basic plan was relatively straightforward – get rid of all the internal walls on the ground floor. Upstairs, the layout was left as it was but the bathroom was given a radical makeover.
So what was a hall, sitting room and separate kitchen became one large, open-plan space. This also allowed natural light to stream through the new room unhindered.
The clever part of the design was in distinguishing the areas for cooking, eating and relaxing and making sure they flowed, while adding character and colour.
To keep costs down, Matthew and Mark did most of the preliminary work, ripping out everything except the cornicing and the staircase panelling, before the builders took over.
One piece of structural steel was needed when a load-bearing wall was removed but the rest of the work was cosmetic.
The whole ground floor is covered in engineered oak and Matthew splashed out on attractive column radiators .
The kitchen area is horseshoe shape and units and appliances are from Huddersfield-based Daval. he kitchen layout was really important to me because I like cooking,” says Matthew, who loves the oak-topped breakfast bar, which doubles as a “dining table” and a desk. The copper lights above are from Heal’s.
Mark designed it to create separation from the sitting area and added a smoke glass mirror at the end. The reflection makes the space feel bigger and adds interest.
The sitting area has its own striking identity thanks to wall panelling painted in Scree, a dark grey paint by Little Greene, and a cosy wood-burning stove. The yellow Caligaris sofa from Redbrick Mill, Batley, was a Christmas present from Matthew’s parents.
“The panelling was Dad’s idea but I just couldn’t imagine what it would look like and I wasn’t convinced. Now I think it’s one of the best features of the house. Dad also suggested using a dark grey instead of light grey on the walls, which I was sceptical about but he was right. It looks fantastic,” says Matthew.
Upstairs, the two bedrooms were refurbished and a box room was slightly enlarged to create a small home office. The old brown bathroom was transformed into a light, bright shower room.
The finishing touch was a new front door designed by Mark. It allows more light in while paying tribute to the property’s heritage.
Matthew spent £60,000 on the modernisation and the house has recently been valued at £190,000.
“It’s basically worth what I spent on it but it wasn’t about making a profit, it was about making a home that suited me and my lifestyle,” he says.
Mark rates an old terrace house higher than a new-build starter home. “A lot of people dismiss these old terraces but they are better built than modern houses and they are better value. They only issue for first-time buyers is financing any work needed, which is why there should be incentives, as there are with new-builds,” he says.
“These old terraces can be remodelled and updated and most architects would give you some advice and some ideas with a simple sketch scheme.”
All pictures are by Brian Ormerod. Useful Contacts: One 17 Architects and Interior Designers, www.one17design.com